Ralco, a third-generation, family-owned multinational supplier of livestock nutrition, animal health products and crop enhancement technologies, understands the importance of locating food producers where food sources exist.
That’s why the Balaton-based company is investing heavily in establishing shallow "harbor-raised" shrimp production using a hub-and-spoke integration model.
“Our goal is to build the largest integrated shrimp company in North America,” says Michael Ziebell, general manager of Ralco’s new venture, truShrimp. “Why Minnesota? It’s simple. We have the opportunity to build a whole new industry here, using technology. We’re bringing shrimp to where the feed is.”
Soybeans, corn and hard red wheat are all potential feed sources, Ziebell says. While soybeans are the predominant sources of protein in shrimp diets, Ralco has been researching corn, too. According to a University of Minnesota economic feasibility study, a shrimp harbor in the state could bump up soybean prices by 5 to 10 cents per bushel.
Patented production process
The truShrimp system, owned by Ralco, is a patented shrimp production process with a distinctive competitive advantage, according to Ziebell. Since last fall, employees have been raising shrimp in a tightly controlled pilot tidal basin that maintains consistent feed and water. The basin, part of the testing site they call Balaton Bay Harbor, consists of two stacked water tanks, each 34 feet long by 9.5 feet wide. Feed, which is offered continually, varies depending on the size of the shrimp. Under the truShrimp system, employees raise shrimp from their post-larvae weight of .003 grams to extra jumbo in size — around 35 grams — in under 150 days. Saltwater made to specifications is kept at a constant 86 degrees F and recycled.
PATENTED HOUSING: Patented tidal basin technology allows truShrimp to raise shrimp in shallow water. These tanks recreate the ocean currents, creating an environment where shrimp can thrive. Basins are stacked and contained in "harbors."
Enough testing on shrimp production in tidal basins has been done that company officials are ready to begin construction on the first commercial harbor in spring 2018, in southwestern Minnesota. That would be the first "spoke" in the hub-and-spoke production model. Next, the company plans to build its first of two hatcheries and a genetics center. Those will provide enough young shrimp to continuously stock up to three harbors. To complete the "hub," truShrimp is looking at also putting a processing facility, distribution sales and marketing in Marshall and Lyon counties.
With truShrimp, product will essentially go from spawning to table, Ziebell adds.
Projected economic activity is $48 million
The U-M economic impact study projected the cost of one shrimp harbor would be $46 million, with the potential to generate more than $48 million in economic activity in Cottonwood, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Rock and Redwood counties. Construction of the 9-acre facility would result in $14.5 million of labor income and support an estimated 330 jobs, the study authors noted. And once constructed, the harbor could continue to annually generate an estimated $23 million in economic activity, and provide employment directly and indirectly for 124 people.
About 80% of shrimp consumed in the U.S. is imported, mostly from Southeast Asia and Ecuador. Only 20% is actually harvested from the sea. The U.S. domestic shrimp market is about 1.6 billion pounds per year. U.S. shrimp consumption averages around 4 pounds per person.
Ziebell adds that truShrimp truly is a Minnesota effort when it comes to using local technology. Ralco is working with Action Track, a company in Marshall, to build robotic feeders that will use track technology to go up and down the tidal basins. And they are working with Nova Tec in Willmar to build shrimp processing equipment.
For more information on the U-M economic impact study, go to bit.ly/2kne8X4.